Let me first get out of the way my opinion that there are very few bad places for a first date. I would say there are some that can work against you and some that can work for you. Let’s use a 5-star ranking (5 being the best) for each category below:
- Volume (How many times do I have to ask ‘Whaaat’ over a blaring Despacito before I get annoyed?)
- Vibe (How interesting is this date spot? Can I take Grandma here or will I need a some quality tattoo artwork in order to fit in?)
- Ease of eating (Will I smile and have something stuck in my teeth? How easy will it be to spill cheese on myself at this establishment?)
Unfortunately for me, VVE doesn’t spell out a clever moniker but you understand the gist. Let’s start with Tomukun (505 E. Liberty St.), one of my personal favorites in Ann Arbor, great for a quick bite or a lengthier meal. The appetizers are small enough to share one or two before a main course, and the beer list has a few very affordable options. It’s also the perfect amount of loud, earning it a 5 for Volume and 4.5 for Vibe. I have personally taken my Grandmother here and not been concerned about the appropriateness of the atmosphere, but do think it could use a little more color on the walls to help with small talk. The biggest downfall of Tomukun is the Ease of eating category. Ramen noodles really don’t scream first date unless you’re fond of spilling broth on your outfit. All in all, I would highly recommend it as long as you’re willing to stride fearlessly into the ramen options, if not, the Bi bim bop is delicious, too.
Isalita (341 E. Liberty), only a couple blocks from Tomukun, offers a world’s difference in the three categories. Always crowded and always loud, a first date on a quiet weeknight would be your best bet if you care about conversation. Otherwise, it’s hard to hear over the upbeat music, birthday singing, and plethora of families dining. It is, however, a consistently fun and lively experience. Portions are easy to eat without spilling and are delicious as well. Be advised, their version of an after-meal aperitif is Tequila served neat. Isalita earns a 2.5 for Volume, a 4.5 for Vibe, and a 5 for Ease of eating.
As long as you’re not risk-averse
If you want to show off your adventurous side, then Blue Nile (215 E. Washington St.) is your answer. With live music on Saturday nights, the Ethiopian restaurant is the only one of its kind in the city and has the best of all three categories. Never too loud, friendly to all potential dates, and most importantly, diners eat without utensils. What could first come off as mildly intimidating becomes weirdly freeing. Let’s give it a 5, 5, 4 on the VVE scale. Plus, it’s a great conversation starter to experience a new type of dining – authentic Ethiopian food. Little tip: their coffee is amazing. I highly recommend a cup to top off the evening.
Whether you live in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Saline, Dexter or Chelsea, go to school at EMU or U-M, or just happen to be passing through the area, don’t miss Sidetrack (56 E. Cross St.) for a great pub-dining restaurant with the comforts of a hearty meal, lengthy beer list and friendly staff. A charming restaurant any time of the year, the patio on a later summer or early fall evening adds additional atmospheric delight. Sidetrack offers more than a few vegetarian options and burgers that have earned a ton of accolades. If you manage to snag a patio seat, Sidetrack earns a 5 for Vibe, a 5 for Volume and a 4 for Ease of eating (these are definitely two-handed burgers).
Classic Ann Arbor
For a drastic change in price and vibe, who says you can’t get to know someone over a plate of Chili Cheese Fries? The Fleetwood Diner (300 S. Ashley St.) still has the best in town, and arguably the best people-watching. Grab a seat outside or inside and get a plate of the hippie hash if you’re vegetarian (add bacon if you’re not, trust me) and enjoy a uniquely Ann Arbor meal. Yes, the hash can get slightly sloppy, but, let’s be honest, you’re not going to The Fleetwood in your fanciest garb. It can be loud sometimes too, with a frenetic chatter that feels like the city is alive. If you’re a native like I am and you’re courting someone from out of town, you can’t beat it (outside of Blimpy’s and The Big House) as a place for feeling the city’s heartbeat. Let’s give it a 4, 5, 4 on the VVE scale.
As luck would have it, this area has a ton of high-quality and fun restaurants to choose from, making it fairly difficult to choose poorly.
Last advice for a first date? Make sure your companion isn’t allergic to half the menu before picking a destination. From personal experience, it’s not fun to wash down an appetizer with an antihistamine after a shellfish reaction.